Today in barely-scrutable crypto news for nerds: Matt Furie—the creator of the oft-Alt Right-appropriated character Pepe the Frog—was able to successfully force the removal of a collection of 7,000 cartoon frog images from the NFT marketplace this week on the grounds that the images ran afoul of his own copyrighted art.
Vice has a good play-by-play of the whole bizarre legal saga, which began when an anonymously-run NFT project called Sad Frogs District was listed as “officially verified” on the peer-to-peer NFT marketplace OpenSea on August 9. NFT, for the uninitiated, stands for “non-fungible token,” which generally refers to any set of rare digital collectibles that are unique and therefore likely to be traded. Cryptocurrencies are like money, NFTs are more like a painting or limited edition sneaker.
According to the website NFT Stats, Sad Frogs District initially got off to a hot start in the marketplace, selling 883 NFTs in the last week alone for a total sales volume of $664,000 (the average price of one token, per NFT Stats, was $752). But that rousing success came to an abrupt halt after Furie himself became personally involved, reaching out to the project’s developers via email and beseeching them to “...pivot away from Pepe and instead focus on inspired works or original frogs,” per an email obtained by Motherboard.
Furie has a long history of fighting misuse of his signature frog since it became a common meme among white supremacists and other undesirables.
The Sad Frogs collection does seem at least reminiscent of Matt Furie’s art, in that the frogs appear to be very much stylistically derived from Pepe and seem like they have the potential to be put to work for sinister ends. According to the Sad Frogs official website, which has since been taken down but remains preserved via The Wayback Machine, the collection was “...programmatically generated from a random combination of more than 200 traits,” and lives “on the Ethereum blockchain in the form of ERC-721 tokens.”
“The Frogs are inspired by collective artworks of internet artists and cyberpunk aesthetics,” the description notes. “The project is not associated with Matt Furie.”
But Furie begged to differ, and, after getting blocked from Sad Frogs’ official Discord channel, eventually directed his lawyers to send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request to OpenSea, which the marketplace honored. After members of OpenSea’s “community help” Discord channel began asking where the Sad Frogs were, an OpenSea moderator confirmed the news, writing that “Pepe items have been delisted due to a DMCA takedown request by the creator of Pepe, Matt Furie.”
“I’m disappointed in Matt for his overreach and his lack of support for artistic freedom,” a Sad Frogs Discord moderator who goes by Kronos told Motherboard. “He clearly wanted to shut down the project for monetary reasons. And I’m also disappointed that Matt and the devs couldn’t find a way to work together and find a solution that would have allowed the project to move forward in such a way that respected the artistic integrity of both parties and frog meme culture in general.”
Indeed, it’s always a shame when frog meme culture isn’t afforded the respect and artistic integrity it deserves.
Furie, for what it’s worth, has already made a small fortune of his own off the sales of NFTs in the last couple of months. According to OpenSea records, he auctioned off a vintage Pepe cartoon in April for 420 ETH (around $1 million), and has since launched a separate NFT project called PEGZ, which has separately shored up a trading volume of 3,000 ETH ($9 million).